Both the Washington Post and Los Angeles Times lead with President Bush's participation yesterday in a NATO meeting in Brussels. The Post's headline states what the president was attempting to accomplish--"BUSH TRIES TO SELL NATO ON MISSILE DEFENSE PLAN"--and the LAT's sums up how his pitch was received--"NATO COOL TO MISSILE SHIELD." The New York Times fronts Bush/Nato but leads with the White House's decision (to be announced today) that in two years, the U.S. will end all military exercises and aerial bombing on the Puerto Rican island of Vieques, a story fronted by the WP and LAT. USA Today leads with a development nobody else fronts: The Senate, with White House support, has hammered out a deal that's likely to extend the current moratorium on new Internet taxes until 2006 but would then make it possible for states to substantially increase their collection of taxes on cyber and catalogue purchases.
Both NATO leads say that a majority of the organization's 19 members remain opposed to the U.S. missile defense plan that would junk the ABM Treaty. The WP spots consternation among many NATO countries who suspect that in consultations like yesterday's meeting, President Bush is "feigning interest in their views" on his way to going ahead with his project anyway. The LAT says that most NATO allies still don't think that "rogue" nation missiles are the major post-Cold War threat. The WP says that behind closed doors French President Jacques Chirac voiced the strongest objections to Bush, using, says the LAT, "blunt language." Germany is also listed as an opponent. On the other hand, the papers say that Hungary, Italy, Poland, and Spain have expressed interest in exploring missile defense, and, adds the WP, so did the Czech Republic's Vaclav Havel. The Post also says that despite their public criticism of the U.S. plan, Russian officials appear to be leaving the door open as long as the missile defense system remains "limited." But the paper doesn't explain what this means.
The NYT lead observes that the decision to get the U.S. military out of Vieques reverses the Navy's long-running insistence that there is no other locale suitable for the live-fire training conducted there. The story goes high citing White House concerns that mounting protests of Navy operations on the island and the arrest of the protesters was costing President Bush vital support among Hispanics. Another factor the paper suggests: concerns that a scheduled referendum might well result in an overwhelming vote for completely kicking the Navy off the island. But judging from some of the quotes the Times gathers from those opposed to bombing Vieques, it's not clear if the Bush move will mollify. Fernando Ferrer, the president of the Bronx, is quoted saying "Thanks for nothing. I continue to call for an immediate end to the bombing." And New York Rep. Charles Rangel, another opponent, says, "It's like me telling you that I'm going to stop beating you in the head with a hammer in two years." The NYT also observes that the decision could affect U.S. military operations in the Pacific, where training exercises on the island of Okinawa have also long brought protests.
The NYT's Bob Herbert charges Navy officials with mistreating Vieques protesters, including a U.S. congressman and the vice president of the Puerto Rico Senate. Herbert says not only was the congressman kicked by military guards, but some female detainees were subjected to obscene comments and gestures and that handcuffed prisoners were transported on a barge without being given life jackets. The Navy, reports Herbert, is not investigating.
The LAT fronts, and everybody else stuffs, a Department of Justice study that says violent crime was down 15 percent last year. This, notes the coverage, just weeks after the FBI reported that crime had stopped falling for the first time in 10 years. One possible cause of the difference: The FBI report is based on police reports while this latest DOJ finding is based on victims' input. Nevertheless, the LAT notes that usually the two sets of data produce similar crime trends.
The top story in the Wall Street Journal's front-page worldwide news box is that, according to unnamed sources, the Pentagon has decided to proceed with the Joint Strike Fighter, a plane earmarked for the Air Force, Navy, and Marines. The story describes the plane as "low-cost" but doesn't say what the per-copy price would be. It should have. Working with total cost and total plane figures, the story does contain leads to a per-plane price of over $71 million. Low-cost?
USAT runs a fronter under the headline "CANDLES MIGHT BE POLLUTING YOUR HOME, EPA SAYS." The story explains that even though the EPA has no legal authority over indoor air, it has found that a burning candle can exceed its standards for outdoor air. The biggest problems come from candle clusters, candles with multiple wicks and scented candles. The National Candle Association (really!) is quoted saying the concerns are overstated.
The WP and NYT both report that Karl Rove, President Bush's top political adviser, met recently in the White House with Intel executives seeking his help in obtaining government approval of a merger at a time when he owned more than $100,000 worth of Intel stock. Both papers have White House spokesfolks assuring that Rove did not give advice on the merger. Both stories report that the merger was approved a few weeks later and that Rove didn't sell his Intel stock until last Thursday. They also report that Rove had decided to sell all his stocks last December but was advised by the Bush transition counsel to wait until he could get a government certificate of divestiture so that he could defer paying capital gains taxes. The Times story says that during that time, Rove's stock portfolio fell 20 percent, but it doesn't answer the more immediately relevant question: What happened to his Intel stock between the day of that White House meeting and last Thursday? The Associated Press broke this story. (The NYT online story is the AP's.) Is that a good reason for other news organizations to downplay it? Does this really seem, as it did to the editors of the WP, like a Page 14 story?